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Utopia lost? The significance of the shopping mall in American culture and the effects of its decline on the American public

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For the last 50 years, the ubiquitous shopping mall has been a staple of everyday American life. Victor Gruen, credited with creating the blueprint for the contemporary shopping mall, envisioned the mall as 'the nucleus of a utopian experiment', a space where 'shoppers will be so bedazzled by a store's surroundings that they will be drawn - unconsciously, continually to shop in a master- planned, mixed-use community'. According to Ellen Dunham-Jones, '20 percent of the 2,000 largest malls in the United States are failing'. As a result of oversaturation, the current economic situation and changing shopping habits, many of Gruen's 'utopian experiments' are being replaced with 'Big Box' stores such as Target and Walmart, spaces that offer none of the communal aspects of Gruen's retail vision. Although the decline of the American shopping mall may be seen as a triumph to many, one cannot discredit the cultural importance of the shopping mall and the imprint that it has left on the average American consumer. This article explores the shopping mall as a symbolic construct and reflects on how its decline is affecting the American public.

Keywords: community; public space; retail and commerce; shopping malls; utopia; visual communications

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Canberra

Publication date: September 8, 2011

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  • The Australasian Journal of Popular Culture is a peer-reviewed journal devoted to the scholarly understanding of everyday cultures. It is concerned with the study of the social practices and the cultural meanings that are produced and are circulated through the processes and practices of everyday life. As a product of consumption, an intellectual object of inquiry, and as an integral component of the dynamic forces that shape societies. The journal will be receptive to articles which focus on Australasian examples, or broader comparative and theoretical questions viewed through an Australasian lens.
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